All ancient humans were polytheistic people, meaning, they held earth and ancestral honoring, animistic worldviews. I resonate on a cellular level with those practices.
During this liminal space and time when the veils are at their thinnest, I wanted to do something special to honor my ancestors. I keep several ancestral altars year-round, however, during this season of global unrest, I was called to connect deeper and go further into what their lives may have been like through the rituals, practices and beliefs they observed and honor them by doing so.
In this blog, as a bow of respect and veneration, I will take a deep dive into my lineage and cover some of the beliefs, practices and rituals my ancestors obseerved.
On my paternal lineage my ancestors were from Belarus and Ukraine. These regions have a rich history of traditional/folk customs. Paganism was the only religion in these regions until the 10th century and co-existed with Christianity for a very long time.
Pagan ritual, Vodinnya Kusta (Bush Rite), is associated with honoring ancestors. In ancient times, women and girls visited family members, dressed in branches, in ancestral veneration. The branches symbolized the Bush that represented the souls of the dead. Ancestors played the role of mediators between this world and the afterlife, and people tried to gift them with the Bush to guarantee themselves a well-being.
Velesova Nich (Veles's Night) is an ancient Ukrainian holiday observed on October 31 to November 1. This holiday has deep roots in pagan traditions and is associated with the god Veles. Veles is a pre-Christian god who was considered the patron saint of art, music, poetry, beauty, talent, happiness, and love. He was also the patron of creative people, magicians, soothsayers, and clairvoyants. Beliefs say that Veles taught people how to coexist with nature, grow grain, graze cattle, and take milk without killing animals. On Veles' Night, people believe that the souls of the dead come down to earth. This night is considered a time of mysticism and magic, when wishes can come true.
Kupalje (folk holiday dedicated to the sun and efflorescence) is associated with fire and burgeoning magical powers. Fire is believed to scare off evil spirits. The tradition of jumping over fire is intended to promote inner cleansing. Paparz-Kwetka (flowering fern) plays a special role on this day. It was believed that ferns flower in the Kupalje night and so people used to search for the magic ferns in the woods at night. According to pagan belief, this fern's flowers bring good luck, wealth, or the ability to understand animal language. According to folklore, the flower, Chervona Ruta, may refer to a mythological species of flowering plants in the Rue genus of the citrus family, Rutaceae. The flower is yellow, but according to legend, it turns red on the eve of Kupalje.
On my maternal lineage my ancestors were from La Sila in Calabria, a mountainous plateau in Southern Italy, between the Ionian and Tyrrhenian Seas. The Brutti, an ancient tribe of shepherds and farmers, were the first known inhabitants of the Sila plateau, known for its vast forests and fresh air. The Brutti were descendants of the Samnite tribes who worshipped both spirits called “numina” (divine presence) and gods and goddesses. The Samnites honored their gods by sacrificing live animals and using votive offerings, generally made to gain favor with supernatural forces. Superstition was prominent in the Samnite religion. It was believed that chanting could influence reality, that amulets could protect people, and that “Augurs” (priests/shamans) could see the future. An augur’s main role was the practice of augury, the interpretation of the will of the gods by studying events observed within a predetermined sacred space. The augur's decisions were based on what they personally witnessed- including thunder and lightning but mainly birdsigns; whether the birds he saw flew in groups or alone, what noises they made as they flew, the direction of flight, what kind of birds they were, how many there were, or how they fed.
My ancestors in both my maternal and paternal lineage come from the Canary Isles. The Guanches were the indigenous peoples of Tenerife, in the Canary Islands. Little is known of the beliefs of the Guanches due to the genocide of natives, along with forced deportation, sexual violence and confiscation of land and children constituted an attempt to "destroy in whole" the Guanche people. There was a general belief in a supreme being, called Achamán (translation, the skies). Achamán, omnipotent and eternal god, created the land and the water, the fire and the air, and all creatures derived their existence from him. The women worshipped a goddess called Moneiba, protector of the women of Tenerife. According to tradition, the male and female gods lived in mountains, from which they descended to hear the prayers of the people. The Guanches performed their worship in the open, under sacred trees such as pine or drago, or near sacred mountains, and sometimes in caves. Animeros or Curanderos (indigenous healer), mainly practicing in northern parts of Tenerife, were healers, mystics, and mediums.
My Uruguayan ancestors were the indigenous tribe, the Charrua. Prior to European colonization they were a semi-nomadic people who sustained themselves mainly through hunting and gathering. Just like my Guanche ancestors, they also suffered genocide and were deliberately and systematically exterminated in the Massacre of Salsipuedes, that took place in 1831 in the region of Paysandu (and surrounding) in Uruguay. Little is known of their ancestral indigenous beliefs and rituals, although, there are active efforts through nonprofit organizations such as Consejo de la Nación Charrúa (CONACHA) to reverse historical erasure and silencing of Charrua Nation cultures and narratives.
I have been researching native plants that the Charrua would have used and have found around twenty native species used for their folk medicine uses. Some native species I will mention here are: Plantago major, Arnica montana, Tillandsia usneoides, Passiflora caerulea, Cestrum euanthes. A fact I find fascinating is that Uruguay is the country with the largest number of non-religious people in Latin America and the second with the lowest percentage of Catholics in its population. I would like to continue my research around the intricacies that led to Uruguay’s predominantly irreligious culture.
If you'd like to explore ancestral veneration and how to invite your ancestors to take an active role in your life, reach out for traditional medicine session below.